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262 B. POLEVOI
pedals before the instructor got there. He seemed to be a
decent fellow, but who could tell? He might suddenly get
a fit in his head, kick up a shindy and refuse to give him
a trial. Meresyev clambered along the slippery wing, con-
vulsively clutching at the side of the cockpit. Owing to his
excitement and lack of practice he could not for the life
of him throw his leg over the side, and the elderly me-
chanic with a long, melancholy face looked up at him in
surprise and thought: "The bastard's drunk!"
At last Alexei managed to get one inflexible leg into the
cockpit, got the other in with incredible effort and dropped
heavily into the seat. He fastened his artificial feet
to the pedals with the aid of his straps. They turned out
to have been well made, and the loops fitted firmly and
snugly over his feet like those of a good pair of skates in
The instructor poked his head into the cockpit and in-
"Say, are you drunk? Let me smell your breath."
Alexei exhaled. Satisfied that the smell of alcohol was
absent, the instructor shook his fist threateningly at the
The engine snorted several times and then the pistons
began to beat rhythmically. Meresyev almost jumped for
joy and automatically pulled the gas lever, but he heard
the instructor growling into the intercom:
"Don't go rushing like a bull at a gate!"
The Instructor opened the throttle himself. The engine
roared and whined, a,nd the plane, hopping and skipping,
took the run. The instructor automatically pulled the
stick, and the tiny plane that looked like a dragon-fly and
bore the pet name of "forest ranger" on the north front,
"cabbage grower" on the central front and "corn grower"
in the south, the plane that everywhere was the butt of
the good-natured chaff of the soldiers and respected as an
old, creaky but tried and devoted comrade, the plane on
which all airmen had leamt to fly, steeply rose to the sky.
In a mirror fixed at an angle, the instructor could see
the face of his new trainee. How many faces of men